Konnichiwa! Language Learning In the Era of New Media

With the new forms of interconnectedness we see everyday via the web, it is no surprise that language acquisition has caught on with the new trend. We have more access to people from other cultures speaking different languages then ever before. A company that has taken advantage of this golden opportunity is based out of Shanghai and calls its new form of social media “italki”. The company was launched in 2006 to originally assist English language learners in China a chance to practice their new language with others via the web. Today, more then 500,000 users in 200 countries all over the world exchange close to 100 languages through the website. Its popularity has increased significantly where users can exchange language knowledge for free through video conferencing and posting questions to language groups. Like Facebook, each user has control over their own profile with a wall where others can post questions and status updates. The highlight of their page is in the ‘Language Box’ where members list the languages they speak and the languages they want to learn. They are then rated by language level of ‘beginner, elementary, intermediate, advanced, and native’. The website then helps to find other members who want to exchange their language with your own. For example, if I am looking to improve my Mandarin at an elementary level, then I would be matched with a native Mandarin speaker to improve their English skills as a native speaker. Members are also search able through their extensive database where anyone can be found and matched based on their language capabilities.

A new feature on the site that has now pushed the social media site even further is its new ‘Marketplace’ where teachers and students can exchange professional language services. Language teachers are able to get paid through video conferencing with pre-prepared language lessons and are evaluated on the spot for future clients. Students are also able to browse through the websites database of teachers and specific lessons that they might be interested in, for example, “Intermediate Business English” or “Literatura Española y Latinoamericana” (Literature from Spain and Latinamerica). One aspect that I find fascinating about some of these classes is that teachers are offering ‘slang’ or ‘dialect’ classes. For example “Aprendo Argentino” (learn Argentinian) from a teacher in Buenos Aires who advertises her classes as “charlemos (Argentinian slang for ‘lets chat’) for a little bit so you can get the idea of what it’s like to speak in Argentinian”.

Needless to say, this is one language exchange that you will not find in a classroom. Plug in, turn on, connect, and start learning!